By Margaret McCormick
Sandra J. “Sandy’’ Callahan has been cooking since childhood. The springboard was an Easy-Bake Oven she received for Christmas one year. It was her favorite toy, and she happily accepted payment of a quarter to make miniature peanut butter cookies for her brothers.
Since that time, she has learned how to make favorite family recipes, like lentil soup and sauce and meatballs (her mother’s sauce won an award at the New York State Fair one year) and immersed herself in the art of Italian cookies. Her father came from a big Italian family, she says, and she wanted to re-create the cookies made by her aunts from when she was young. She has a fat recipe file and can always be counted on to make cookie trays for family weddings and an impressive array of cookies at Christmastime — a “labor of love’’ that she shares with friends and family all over the country.
“I make the tri-colored Venetian cookies — or as my family calls them ‘flags’ — and my granddaughter just loves Grammy’s rainbow cookies,’’ Callahan says. “I make the chocolate ‘meatball’ cookies with raisins and spice, the sesame seed cookies that are so good with a cup of coffee and about 10 other varieties. My cookies are probably my claim to fame.’’
Callahan, 60, lives in Cicero with her partner, Bill Hirsh. She serves as the deputy clerk and treasurer for the village of Liverpool and cooks and bakes in her leisure time.
Weeknights are for simple suppers, like pasta dishes, chicken or something in the Instant Pot, and weekends are for experimentation, more time-consuming recipes and family meals. “I have always enjoyed cooking for others and am always on the lookout for a great cookbook,’’ Callahan says. “If you can read, you can cook.’’
How would you describe your cooking style? “Simple but tasty. I enjoy going all out for holidays and celebrations and spending time in the kitchen, but for dinner after working all day, I prefer something relatively quick. I did cave in and get an Instant Pot (a combined slow cooker and pressure cooker) during the pandemic. Being half Italian, I do make a lot of Italian food. I don’t use recipes for a lot of my cooking, they are things I’ve made over and over so I just cook and taste along the way. If a recipe sounds good, I’ll give it a try.’’
What’s your favorite thing to cook on a weeknight? “I have an arsenal of chicken recipes. I make an Asian red curry chicken that’s quick and delicious. Pasta is always a good standby. We love pasta with sausage and broccoli (recipe below). It comes together in the time it takes to boil the pasta. With a nice crusty piece of bread and a glass of wine, this is the perfect ending to a workday.’’
What do you like to cook when family/friends come over? “I like to make a nice charcuterie board to have while I am preparing things. (I’ve been doing this since before it became trendy.) Lasagna is delicious and feeds a crowd. I also like to make a beef tenderloin. It is quick and easy and always a crowd pleaser, especially with a nice side of roasted potatoes or gratin potatoes.’’
What have you been cooking during the pandemic? “I made different types of homemade bread several times, I made Chinese dumplings for the first time and a lot of good, hearty soups. I bought a baking steel — like a pizza stone only made of steel — and have been trying to perfect homemade pizza. The steel really retains the heat and makes an almost wood-fired crust in your oven in a matter of minutes.”
What’s your favorite recipe resource? “I have a library of cookbooks. I read them cover to cover, like a novel when I first get a new one. I am a fan of Pinterest. I used to get all the cooking magazines but now I just get everything online. I also love watching cooking shows, especially the ones on PBS.’’
What’s your favorite place to shop? “I love Nichols in Liverpool for meat, Vince’s Gourmet Imports for all things Italian and of course the farmers’ markets in the summer. For regular groceries, I like Wegmans and I’m a huge fan of Aldi. Trader Joe’s is great for cheese and all the other things you didn’t know you needed.’’
Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli
Recipe from Sandra J. Callahan
1 pound orecchiette pasta (or cavatelli)
1 pound broccoli florets (can use froze; thaw first)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage (hot or mild), casing removed
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
For the pork tenderloin:
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook the orecchiette per package directions. When the pasta has about five minutes cooking time left, drop in the broccoli.
Put a large sauté pan over medium heat and heat the oil. Add the sausage to the pan and sauté, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until the sausage has nicely browned, about seven to nine minutes.
Reduce the heat and add the garlic and crushed red pepper (if using) and sauté for a minute or two.
Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.
Drain the pasta and broccoli and add it to the pan with the sausage. Stir to combine everything and heat for one to two minutes. Turn off the heat, add the grated cheese and stir to combine everything. If it looks dry, add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, to get the consistency you like. The cheese will melt in and create a sauce. Serve pasta in bowls with more grated cheese to sprinkle on top. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
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